Did you ever wonder just how it can be possible that the same, thousand times debunked, climate “skepticisms” keep re-emerging, month after month, year after year? Obviously, there are those individuals (like Singer and Soon), organizations (like HeartlessLand), and media outlets (like Faux News) who deliberately lie and misinform with no concern for scientific or journalistic ethics whatsoever, but how is it they are so successful?
Well, it seems simple human nature, of the sort the most earnest and conscientious of us all possess, lends itself to being deceived by whomever yells loudest, even when the verifiable truth follows quietly and obsequiously after.
An article titled “Setting the record straight almost impossible” describes a new study from the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review by Ullrich Ecker and colleagues from The University of Western Australia that shows just how insidiously difficult it is to remove misinformation once it is planted in the mind. If you add your run of the mill everday cognitive bias to that mix, well, we see what grows out of that everday on this particular blog.
This is the abstract:
Information that is presumed to be true at encoding but later on turns out to be false (i.e., misinformation) often continues to influence memory and reasoning. In the present study, we investigated how the strength of encoding and the strength of a later retraction of the misinformation affect this continued influence effect. Participants read an event report containing misinformation and a subsequent correction. Encoding strength of the misinformation and correction were orthogonally manipulated either via repetition (Experiment 1) or by imposing a cognitive load during reading (Experiment 2). Results suggest that stronger retractions are effective in reducing the continued influence effects associated with strong misinformation encoding, but that even strong retractions fail to eliminate continued influence effects associated with relatively weak encoding. We present a simple computational model based on random sampling that captures this effect pattern, and conclude that the continued influence effect seems to defy most attempts to eliminate it.
The full article (paywalled) is here. It is interesting that even strong retractions do not undo the damage, but I don’t know if I have ever seen a strong retraction! The standard fare is the blaring, erroneous front page headline (eg ClimateGate) followed by page 27 “oh never mind” blurbs (results of full investigations of Climategate emails).
Subheadings from the ABC.net.au article (“unerasable damage”, “unchanging beliefs”) do not give much hope to those of us striving to expose climate denialism and explain the technical realities of global climate disruption to either antagonists, sincere enquirers or lurkers. But one line from Dr. Ecker: “If you make them suspicious of why that information was presented in the first place, such as by saying it was a deliberate attempt to mislead you, then they can more readily dismiss it,” does give some of that hope back.
Maybe that poor sap in the comments who swallowed Watt’s latest bull, after coming here and defending it, just might be a little less likely to swallow the next dose.